Bookkeeper Training: Learn By Doing

In the last post I was discussing training. At the time, my plan was to write this next training-themed post about running a small business. I've decided to switch that up a bit.

It has been a very long time since I've written anything for the site. Long time readers surely assumed I'd disappeared for good, and there are likely many of you who signed up for the email updates months ago and have never received a thing. I could spend a full post just apologizing and berating myself, but maybe on a future post. This time I'd like to tie this into the original topic.

Shortly after my last post work got a bit hectic. A bit quickly became a lot. Before I knew it, my client workload had doubled. For a while I tried to keep writing. I'd start a new post, get busy with something else, and wouldn't come back to it for days. After a while I accepted the fact that client work had to take priority, and I'd get back to the site when I could.

This last year has been a great learning experience. I could (and might) write about the journey. Lots of questions came up along the way.

Should I change my schedule so I can keep writing?
Should I hire an employee to help out?
Should I say no to some of the additional projects I'm being offered?

Today I want to bring it back to training. There are many ways you can improve yourself as a bookkeeper. I listed off places you can go, and things you can read to boost up your skills. Those are all great, but I've realized something more important.

There really is no substitute for work experience.

There's a reason we don't let med students go straight from their final exams to their first heart transplant. (please tell me we don't) We can only internalize so much without any practical trial and error. The pressure to pass a final exam will force you to retain a lot of information, but there's just something different about the pressure of a real world deadline, and the risk of losing your job or costing the company money if you make a mistake.

In any lesson, you are taught best practices under normal situations. Your class might teach you how to process payroll for 10 employees. It will take you around an hour, and you'll be using industry-standard software at the comfort of your office desk. It will not teach you how to get those 10 people paid at the side of the road because your car broke down on the way back to your office and it's Friday afternoon. (yes, this has happened to me before)

I believe there are 2 big benefits to learning on the job.

As I've said, the first benefit is the deeper practical experience. Learning all the real world scenarios that you'll actually face is so valuable. In my career I've spent long stretches with one or two clients. I've become very good at solving their problems. Much of that training will transfer over to a new client, but every new client comes with new problems to solve.

The new client might use different software. They might be in an industry that has different reporting requirements. Or, maybe they really struggle with cash flow. If I'm used to paying employees and taxes on time but this new client has cash flow issues, how do I adjust? I could remain a bookkeeper for the next 60 years and still come across new challenges every day.

The other benefit is about overcoming procrastination.

How many things in life do you avoid doing because you don't know how? Or, in this case, how many clients or projects do you turn down or put off? I am very guilty of this.

My big example is this website. I wanted to start writing posts about bookkeeping in 2009. What I should have done is setup the simplest site possible, and just started writing. I was scared to just start, so I decided to learn everything I could about web design and content management.

First, I read a couple blog posts about a topic. Then I ordered some books. I bought a domain, paid for hosting, and paid for a couple popular Wordpress themes. I was going to design the perfect site. It would have great design (even though I can't draw a stick man), custom features (don't know a bit of code), and I'd implement all the SEO tricks to get 1,000's of visitors (clueless at marketing).

Months later, I had a couple half-started sites, and the realization that I was never going to be a web designer.

So, in early 2010, I scrapped all of that, and went back to the original plan. I setup a simple site with little to no design, and just started writing. And writing, and writing...

All of the clients I've worked with over the past 7 years have been because of this site. The fact that I've been too busy with client work to write is because I took the plunge and just started doing.

I highly recommend you do the same. I bet there's software out there you want to try out but haven't. Instead of reading about it, go setup an account and start using it. Too scared to use it on your clients? your own books with it this year. You can always go back to your old software if you hate it. If you do hate it, you'll be able to better explain to your clients why they should stick with what you're currently using. Even that small failed experiment will make you a better bookkeeper.


Ok, so it's been ages since I've written here. That means there are lots of people I've lost touch with, and others who I've never met. If you have time, I'd like you to introduce yourself. If you're reading this in your inbox, just reply to the email. If you're on the site, please contact me. Tell me a little bit about you, your business, your procrastination, whatever you'd like. I'd love to know who's out there, and what you're learning, succeeding at, or struggling with.

Take care.

Eric Matthews

I'm a bookkeeper, husband, dad, music junkie, and general tech geek. When I'm a bookkeeper, I focus on cloud bookkeeping. I write at, which helps bookkeepers and business owners move their books online. I work with apps like FreshBooks, Xero, Kashoo, Wave, and QuickBooks Online.

Subscribe to my free newsletter!

Why Bookkeepers Should Go Back To School: (Part 2 - The Software)

Welcome to Week 2 of our Back to School month. Last week we talked about how to improve your core bookkeeping skills. This week I'd like to focus on the tools we use to get our work done. More specifically, how to get some app-specific training so you can get the most out of the software and services you're using.

Having a good base of bookkeeping knowledge is, well, kind of a big deal, but that alone isn't enough. I often find myself saying that debits and credits are the same, no matter what software I'm using. While that's true, it's a bit oversimplified. It's true that I can pick up most bookkeeping software and quickly figure out how to create an invoice. Most people can. But there's another level you achieve when you truly understand your software inside and out.

Why is this so important?

Great question. I'm glad you asked. If you have to enter a couple transactions into your system, being efficient isn't that big of a deal. As a bookkeeper there are days when I'm entering hundreds of invoices and expenses at a time. If I find a shortcut (keyboard or otherwise) that can shave 5 seconds off of each entry, that's some real time savings by the end of the day. Do that every day, and I've saved myself several hours each week.

What about reports? Maybe you're creating these complicated reports in Excel when your software can do them for you. Sometimes they have a funny way of naming them, so make sure you learn what each one of them does. Good software will also let you customize their reports so they're better suited to your client's needs. A few clicks is a lot quicker than an afternoon creating a report in Excel from scratch. Ok, maybe not as rewarding for you Excel nerds out there, but unfortunately you can't bill your client for your sense of accomplishment.

It also helps out your clients. If all I know how to do is the bare essentials, that's all I'm going to offer my client. When you learn all the bells and whistles provided by your app of choice, you open up a ton of helpful tasks you can use to serve them better. For example, Xero has some half-decent budget tracking. If I didn't know that, or didn't know how to use it, I might not suggest it to my client. Once you have it figured out, you can work with your client to setup a budget. Now each month you can not only show them an Income Statement, but one that shows how they're stacking up against their budget too.


The selection and quality of app-specific resources really varies from app to app. It's not entirely based on size or popularity either. Sometimes it's front and centre on the company's homepage, other times it's either hidden, available only when you login, or only available if you're a bookkeeper or accountant signed up for their special program.'s a real crapshoot. Here are some different resources available, so you can become an expert on the software of your choice.

1. Go straight to the source.

We'll start off by talking about some of the companies and how they help you learn their own software. They each have a blog and a YouTube channel, but some of them have more resources than others. It seems a bit silly (and redundant) to explain each link. They're pretty self-explanatory.

Xero Small Business Guides
Xero Blog
Xero TV
Xero U
Xero YouTube
Bookkeepers only: If you sign up to their Partner Program, you get access to some exclusive training. You can also get certified with a (paid) course and exam.
edit: thanks to Irvin for pointing out that Xero certification is now free
FreshBooks Tutorial Videos
FreshBooks YouTube
FreshBooks Blog

Wave University Wave Blog
Wave YouTube

QuickBooks Online Training
QuickBooks Blog
QuickBooks Small Business Blog
QuickBooks YouTube
QuickBooks Online YouTube
Bookkeepers only: Once you're a ProAdvisor, either the paid version w/desktop software or free version for QBO, you get access to lots of extra training, and you can get certified. I discussed these option more in this post about bookkeeper certification.

Kashoo Tutorial Videos
Kashoo Blog
Kashoo YouTube

2. Go to a site devoted to education.

Last week I mentioned 2 paid sites that are great for boosting your bookkeeping knowledge. I don't want to repeat my lists, but it would be foolish to leave these two out.

Lynda: Lynda doesn't cover all of the main services. I couldn't find any courses on Xero, Kashoo, or Wave. However, they have a great FreshBooks Essentials course and several on QuickBooks. There are also courses on MYOB, Quicken, and Excel.

School of Bookkeeping: Since this site is all about bookkeeping, there are courses on quite a few of the most popular apps and services. They've got courses on QuickBooks, Xero, Excel, Sheets, Sage,, and more.

But don't worry, there are more.

ScreencastsOnline: Don is the absolute master of screencasts. I've watched several on software I don't even own, and have gone ahead and bought them afterwards. Yes, he's that good. Don gives you a nice overview of both Mac and iOS apps. There are new screencasts available for both platforms each week. It's a paid membership, about $6/month, but well worth the price. Now, this isn't bookkeeper-centric by any means. But I'm pretty sure we don't just use bookkeeping software. If you use OS X or iOS, you'll find something you like.

Udemy: Udemy feels like Lynda without a curator. So, I guess Lynda...without Lynda? The courses seem to cover every topic imaginable. The big difference here is that the instructors create the courses, and set their own prices. A quick search for QuickBooks gives me results that range from free to $297. That really puts the ownness on the creator to put out a good product and market it. I browsed through a few, and I like the fact that they can contain different types of media. One bookkeeping course had videos, a slideshow, and PDF's.

pro tip - My favourite discount/bundle site, puts together bundles of Udemy courses all the time. I picked up one on software development earlier this year (and I swear I'll get around to it soon) for about $20. It had a "retail" value of hundreds of dollars so if you've got a topic in mind, and some patience, you could hold out for a deal.

3. Find bloggers who are passionate about the topic.

It would be crazy of me (you know, someone who has a blog) to not include a list of people who are writing and talking about this stuff every week. Obviously this isn't a complete list. I try to write about sites I find on a regular basis, so this is just a handful of ones I wanted to highlight today.

homework - If you write about bookkeeping, please connect with me on Twitter. I'm always looking for new blogs, podcasts, etc. that focus on bookkeeping. In fact, I have a Twitter list of bookkeepers and accountants that you can subscribe to. It's a great way to focus on one topic when I'm on Twitter. Otherwise, it's pretty noisy out there.

Small Business Doer - Greg Lam is great at doing video reviews. It's something I've always wanted to add to That Bookkeeper. His blog has lots of great reviews of bookkeeping software. It looks like his last post was back in March. Is that because he's disappeared? No way. He's writing over at The Sleeter Group now. So, once you've finished reading the old stuff, you can go to his author page and read what he's been doing lately.

Scott Gregory: Scott's site, Better Bottom Line is a great site for all things QB. I've been reading his blog for a long time, and I learn something every week. Plus, the title of the blog is Scott Gregory, QuickBooks Expert. So, it's gotta be good, right?

Michelle Long: Long for Success, Michelle's company, has been a go-to site for years. I remember finding her site years ago. Intuit does a rate survey every 2 years. They post a report about the average billable rates across our industry. It's a great report. Michelle always does a wrap up post when they come out. Here's the post from 2013's Intuit rate survey.

Wow! That was a lot of links. If you have RSI issues, please click through these responsibly.

Ok, so we've strengthened our bookkeeping foundation, and we've become experts in our software. What's next? Next week we're going to talk about running our business. Let's see if we can cram an MBA's worth of training into one post. Stay tuned to find out.

Eric Matthews

I'm a bookkeeper, husband, dad, music junkie, and general tech geek. When I'm a bookkeeper, I focus on cloud bookkeeping. I write at, which helps bookkeepers and business owners move their books online. I work with apps like FreshBooks, Xero, Kashoo, Wave, and QuickBooks Online.

Subscribe to my free newsletter!

Why Bookkeepers Should Go Back To School: (Part 1 - The Core)

September is back to school season here in Canada. All of those minds that were drowned in Slurpees and baked in the sun are now dragged back into class to slowly repair themselves.

I think this is a great time for us bookkeepers to do the same. Why should the kids get all the fun, right? How many of you have used the line "I wish I could go back to school" or "you have no idea how easy you've got it at school" on your kids when they were complaining about 15 minutes of homework while you were finishing up another 12 hour day? too! Well, then let's put our money (and time) where our mouths are and do this.

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How to Help Your Bookkeeping Client Find an Accountant

As a bookkeeper it's hard finding clients. Clients who will work with you year after year. It can take a long time to build up trust. After all, we are dealing with their business and their money. Often we're moving their life savings to and from their accounts each month. If you take on a client who is just getting started, they will often come to you for your advice. It makes sense. Most people work with one or two accountants in their life, if any. Most bookkeepers work with dozens over their career.

This can be tricky. An accountant is a critical position to fill. A really good accountant can be a big factor in your success. A really bad one can cost you a lot of money and steer you in the wrong direction.

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